Boston, MA — The Museum of Science, Boston has announced that it will reopen the Charles Hayden Planetarium on Sunday, February 13, 2011. The Museum celebrates the 52-year history of New England’s first major planetarium by unveiling an entirely new kind of cultural venue — the most technologically advanced digital theater in New England. Powered by superior full-dome video and audio systems and a new state-of-the-art Zeiss Starmaster projector, the renovated Planetarium will introduce a new generation of educational programming and arts and entertainment experiences. The yearlong $9 million renovation was funded through the Charles Hayden Foundation and private donations, with significant support from Suffolk Construction’s Red & Blue Foundation, the Honorable Nonnie S. Burnes and Richard M. Burnes Jr., the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, and the Highland Street Foundation.
Spearheaded by the Museum’s late founding director Brad Washburn, the Charles Hayden Planetarium opened in 1958. Since then, more than 11 million visitors have immersed themselves in the beauty and mystery of the cosmos under the starry dome. The theater has been home to daily multimedia explanations of astronomical phenomena, stunning displays of planets, stars, and constellations, and simulated journeys to galaxies far beyond our own. Now unmatched for its versatility, the Planetarium will use the latest in high definition, immersive video, and digital acoustic technology to transport viewers not only to distant times and places in the universe but also inside the blood stream or swimming next to dolphins in the ocean. Furthermore, the new seating design converts the Planetarium into a theater for live performances and other evening entertainment.
“Now, the Charles Hayden Planetarium is much more than a planetarium,” said Paul Fontaine, Museum vice president of education. “It is a time machine that lets us jump thousands of years into the future or the past, a spaceship flying through the universe at unbelievable speeds, and the coolest venue in town for music and the performing arts. It’s also a revolutionary teaching tool that will enable Museum educators to show the sky from any point on Earth and give presenters the flexibility to customize shows and take audiences anywhere they want to go in the known universe.”
Aided by the capabilities of the newly transformed Planetarium, the Museum of Science strengthens its commitment to helping visitors understand and rethink their place in the universe in the midst of science and technology discoveries. As part of the Planetarium’s grand opening, the Museum will premiere Undiscovered Worlds: The Search Beyond Our Sun, an original astronomy show that will explore a field that has exploded in recent years: the science of exoplanets – planets outside our solar system. With NASA’s Kepler mission focused on finding Earth-size planets, we are closer than ever to answering a fundamental question: Are planets like Earth common or rare? In September, astronomers, supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA, announced what could be, if confirmed, the first potentially habitable exoplanet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581. With input from physicist-novelist Alan Lightman and leading exoplanet researchers from MIT and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Undiscovered Worlds captures the excitement of the rapidly unfolding search for exoplanets and invites audiences to join the hunt.
The Museum is also creating Cosmic Light, a new long-term exhibit to complement the Charles Hayden Planetarium experience. Guided by the principle that almost everything we know about the universe comes from studying light, the exhibit helps Museum-goers discover how different wavelengths of light give us different information about the universe. Here visitors can touch a 30,000-year-old meteorite from outer space, view a gallery of large-scale color images that offer a spectacular window on the universe, and take a walking tour of the planets in our solar system—all while exploring how our planet and solar system relate to our galaxy and universe. The ViewSpace station provides updates from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, seasonal introductions to constellations, and news stories of astronomical importance. Cosmic Light is a free exhibit open to the public.
The physical transformation includes the installation of new and more powerful technologies, as well as enhanced visitor amenities:
- The Planetarium’s centerpiece is its state-of-the-art Zeiss Starmaster, one of only two in the United States, and the only one on the East Coast. This custom-built optics system recreates a stunningly realistic night sky, its fiber optics enhancing the size and infinitely adjustable brightness of up to 9,100 stars. For the first time, a new scintillation device generates star flickering as natural as the real thing. In another first, the Starmaster can go forward and back 10,000 years in seconds via computer-controlled independent planet projectors. Unlike the old two-ton Zeiss Mark VI, the new rotating star simulator is elegantly compact, standing eight and a half feet tall, its lens-covered starball 30 inches in diameter.
- The Sky-Skan Definiti System powered by DigitalSky 2 software and Sony SXRD 4K Digital Video Projectors (4K is pixel resolution) and an extensive sky database enable creation of spectacular original programming. The new projection and animation technology not only can simulate space travel, but also could explore global climate change. In addition, using an online databank, Planetarium staff can import and display proteins including DNA strands, while an earth and climate database could show the jet stream or volcanic activity.
- Planetaria traditionally simulate the 3-dimensional sky from any location on Earth in the past or future, accurately reproducing apparent motions and cycles of the sky in time-lapse fashion. But the new DigitalSky 2 software enables Planetarium visitors to peer back at Earth as only astronauts have, then fly out of the Milky Way past other galaxies, immersed in views of anywhere in the known universe modeled on the latest scientific data from satellites and observatories. The Planetarium can also show visually difficult concepts like phases of the moon and how eclipses work as viewed from space.
- Museum educators, poised at the 10-foot-wide control console — banks of knobs and faders, keyboards and monitors at their fingertips — orchestrate the entire experience, using the DigitalSky 2 software, making the Starmaster turn and spin, and adjusting lights, audio, and spotlights.
- With powerful new full-dome video and audio systems, concentric seating for 209 people, and 40 removable seats, the theater offers a transformative venue for musical performances, live theater, and other evening entertainment, as well as audience interactivity and intimacy.
- Enhanced visitor amenities include advanced climate control and custom seats angled to give visitors the sensation of takeoff with optimal views and comfort.
The Museum of Science celebrates the public opening of the newly transformed Charles Hayden Planetarium Sunday, February 13, 2011.
Top Five IPM News Stories for 2010
Find more articles: InPark Magazine archive
Subscribe free: InPark digital edition